Maybe you’re planning your spring break getaway or starting to think about this year’s summer vacation. While the kids may be clamoring for Disney World, the idea of long lines, FastPass stress and costly food and activities doesn't sound like much of a vacation to you. Why not consider one of these more unexpected family vacations — with no sign of Mickey for miles.
1. Grand Canyon
There is something truly incredible about seeing the awe-inspiring majesty of the Grand Canyon through your child’s eyes. Sure, most kids learn about it at school, but seeing it up close is a whole different story. You can enter from the ever-popular Grand Canyon Village for breathtaking views and short hikes with the kids. If you have kids around 7 and up, check out Bright Angel Trail, a one-of-a-kind hike into the canyon and back out again. If you’re carrying little ones or have toddlers, check out the Rim Trail, which has paved walkways and still offers stunning views.
For an off-the-beaten-path experience, check out the North Rim, which is comparatively underdeveloped.
The Grand Canyon and all the U.S. national parks offer fee-free days each year.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone, most of which sits in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, is America’s first national park, founded in 1872. Its most well-known feature is Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts numerous times daily. The park boasts many geological attractions, as well as all different kinds of animals, including bison, moose, bobcats, black bears and grizzly bears. If you like to rough it, various campsites offer cabins and options to sleep under the stars. If that’s not your style, the park has hotels, too.
3. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Less popular than Memphis or Nashville, Chattanooga is a dependable long-weekend option sure to please even the most discerning family member. Stay in downtown Chattanooga and visit the Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The highlight of your trip? A full-day jaunt to Lookout Mountain, a short drive from downtown, will afford you the opportunity to see Rock City, which features views of seven states from the lookout point and a walking trail with a surprise around every turn. My personal favorite is the Swing-a-long Bridge, an 180-foot suspension bridge with amazing views. You’ll also get a chance to see Ruby Falls, America’s largest underground waterfall, and ride the Incline Railway.
Illinois' largest city is a great spring or summer destination spot with lots to do downtown. The Shedd Aquarium offers some of the best aquarium shows in the country, all with a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. Right next door is the Field Museum of Natural History, which rivals the Museum of Natural History in New York City as one of the best in the country. Be sure to check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise in downtown Chicago — the tour guide will share the history behind the city's stunning architecture. It’s a great way to see all of downtown, which sits on the Chicago River. If you visit in the summer, there is no shortage of parks to visit with your kids. In some neighborhoods, there’s a park every few blocks.
5. Williamsburg, Virginia
Considered the gold standard for living history museums across the country, Colonial Williamsburg will transport you back in time to the late 1700s and the beginning of our country. While you walk the streets of this 301-acre historic area, you will meet ordinary townsfolk and might even happen upon George Washington himself. You can participate in a mock trial in the courthouse and even learn a traditional colonial dance. Once you’ve exhausted the historic angle (at least from your teenager’s perspective), visit the nearby Busch Gardens theme park in the summertime.